Play: Three Mothers

playwright Ajene D. Washington

On a very busy  Saturday, my wife and I saw the new play Three Mothers at Capital Rep in Albany, NY. If you’re of a certain age, as I am, you may remember the names James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman and even recall their pictures in the newspapers.

It’s a piece of American history that is baked into my brain as much as the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, AL in 1963 or any number of atrocities of the era.

But if you’re somewhat younger, you may not recall that on June 21, 1964, the three young men, were tortured and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi. They had the audacity to help Black Americans to register and vote. Chaney was Black and local, from Meridian, MS, the others Jewish from the New York City metro area.

Three Mothers is inspired by a 1964 photo of their bereft mothers leaving the final funeral together. The play imagines the conversation afterward, “in Carolyn Goodman’s home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when the three women forged an unbreakable bond and commitment to the Civil Rights Movement.”

Before the 90-minute production of Three Mothers with no intermission, Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill noted that she, playwright Ajene D. Washington, and director Petronia Paley continued to tweak the piece as late as opening night, the day before we saw it.

The cast, Judith Lightfoot Clark, Trisha Jeffrey, and Cheryl Stern, was excellent. Even though the production is heart-wrenching, it was also occasionally, and surprisingly funny, as the three women portrayed negotiate how to move forward.

Freedom Summer

I spoke briefly to local thespian and former news anchor Benita Zahn. She mentioned how she had moderated a pre-play talk with author Julie Kabat about “her new book ‘Love Letter from Pig,’ based on her brother’s personal journals, which describe 1964’s Freedom Summer and the Freedom Schools.” Unfortunately, my wife and I missed that.

But I’m seriously considering attending the pre-show conversation with  “Kabat, Andreesa Coleman, and Dorothy Singletary about their experience within the 1964 Freedom Schools in Mississippi” on Sunday, May 12 at 12:30 p.m.

Incidentally, I looked at the government page for Meridian, MS, and discovered that most of the current city council is Black. The mayor of Philadelphia, MS is black. That would have been unimaginable six decades ago.

He Was My Brother – Simon and Garfunkel. Andrew Goodman was a classmate of Paul and a friend of the duo. 

The 25th annual sweat seasons

Sweat at Cap Rep and more

My wife and I saw a play, a musical, and a concert in eight days.

March 9: The drama Sweat at Capital Rep in Albany. ” This stunning Pulitzer Prize-winning play exposes the devastating impact of the loss of work in America’s Rust Belt circa 2000. Based on interviews with residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, Lynn Nottage brings her breathtaking storytelling to characters and situations that have become far too recognizable in the heart of de-industrialized America. “

From Nottage’s page: “Her play moved to Broadway [in 2017] after a sold-out run at The Public Theater… Inspired by her research on Sweat, Nottage developed This is Reading, a performance installation based on two years of interviews at the Franklin Street, Reading Railroad Station in Reading, PA, in July 2017.”

The Times Union’s Steve Barnes loved it.  “The nine-member cast, under the accomplished direction of Margaret E. Hall, connects so intimately with their characters and the audience that we’re ground down alongside them, albeit with the remove of fiction, as financial turmoil ruins life, family bonds, and decades-long friendships in Rust Belt America while the Bush-Gore 2000 election unfolds.”

Sweat is about labor and the threat of exported jobs, ethnic bias, and the good old days. It’s playing through March 31 and is well worth your while.

Can you spell…

March 10: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was performed at Albany High School. The musical has been around for almost two decades, yet I had never seen it in any iteration.

As the Wikipedia page notes, “An unusual aspect of the show is that four real audience members are invited on stage to compete in the spelling bee alongside the six young characters.” 

It was hilarious but also touching, especially as the number of spellers was winnowed down and the kids acknowledged the stress of the bee. There were only three performances, and we caught the final performance.

The Albany school district page noted that “some of the show’s content may not be suitable for young children.” Probably true.

We had to go because one of our church attendees was a speller, and also Jesus. Albany High often has high-quality productions, and this continued the trend.

Here’s the Broadway cast album of the musical


March 16: That day, my wife and I picked up our daughter from college for spring break, then promptly abandoned her so that we could attend the Albany Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor David Alan Miller. It took place at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

We got the tickets from a woman at church and her husband who had another engagement. The first surprise: they have box seats! They’re kind of neat. Among other things, I can see that the music for the strings stage right of the conductor was mostly traditional, but two of them used electronic devices.

 The first piece was  Murmurations by Derek Bermel. The composer explained that a murmuration is a noun plural for a flock of starlings, which sometimes fly in unison and at other times move independent of the group. And the music does the same. Here’s the Gathering at Gretna Gardens and Gliding Over Algiers and Swarming Rome, recorded six years ago. 


The second piece is The History of Red by Reena Esmail. She says: “The first time I heard Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, it changed my life. I was fourteen years old, and as I sat under the stars at the beautiful Ford Theater on a summer night in in Los Angeles with my parents, I completely identified with the voice of the child who narrates the text of the piece – so aware of the huge, complex world that I was seeing, even through young eyes. Just trying to parse it all. I can pinpoint that one performance as a pivotal moment in my decision to be a musician. I just wanted be someone who could create that kind of beauty.

“The History of Red is borne from the same bones as Knoxville: it is also a large-scale work for soprano and chamber orchestra (intentionally written for the same instrumentation), where the singer grapples with the world around her. And yet it is different — Linda Hogan’s beautiful text is clearly the voice of an adult woman, aware not only of her own current world, but of the entire, complex history of her ancestors. Perhaps that is why her words instantly grabbed me — at this time in the world, when we are each grappling with our own complicated, intertwined histories, her journey felt so resonant to me.”

The soprano at ASO was Molly Netter. Here’s Kathryn Mueller singing from 2021. It may take another listen for me to really warm up to it.


In the pre-concert talk, David Alan Miller made an interesting parallel. He and the orchestra work closely with so many living composers, working through the best way to actualize the intent of composer and musicians. But, he claims, it happens with dead musicians as well. It’s almost like seance.

It helped that they were able to access older bows and traditional strings. Four young violinists  each played a season of  Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons:  Ravenna Lipchuk, Amelia Sie, Shelby Yamin, and Edson Scheid. The musical dialogue between solo violins and cellist were wonderful; at least one fiddler turned to face the cellist, like I’ve seen a couple rock guitarists do.  It may an old chestnut, but it was a good one, and it’s better live.

Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Voices of Music, Freivogel, Moore, Youssefian. 

Ironweed’s 40th, Lux aeterna, RISSE fundraiser, FFAPL gala

Requiem and other texts

Here are four events coming in the next month that I want to plug. I avoid noting these here because most people reading my blog don’t live in New York State’s Capital District. Still, they’re all events I have a special attachment to. I’ve mentioned the last one before.

The NYS Writers Institute is celebrating Ironweed’s 40th anniversary with the first-ever marathon public reading of the novel written by Albany’s native son, William Kennedy, which won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and put the author’s hometown on the literary map.

The special event will begin at noon and continue through 8 p.m. on WEDNESDAY, November 1 (NOT Thursday, Nov.1, as the flier suggests.)

“It will be hosted at the Albany Distilling Co. Bar and Bottle Shop, maker of Ironweed whiskey, at 75 Livingston Ave. in the North Albany neighborhood where the author grew up and where some of the fictional scenes in the Depression-era narrative set in 1938 take place.”

To sign up for a time slot as a volunteer reader, visit:

The final chapters of Ironweed will be read on stage by the novel’s author and invited VIP guest readers, beginning at 7 p.m. at Capital Repertory Theatre, 251 N. Pearl St., adjacent to Albany Distilling Co. Reservations are required. Go to:

The ticket prices are a donation of $10, $25 or $50. All proceeds will go to benefit the food pantry and free meal outreach at Sacred Heart Church, 33 Walter St. in Albany, which was Kennedy’s parish when he was growing up.

“The novel takes place across three days — All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls Day — in the jagged, heartbreaking journey of Francis Phelan, an alcoholic vagrant and former Albany professional baseball player.”


Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus (RISSE) Annual Fall Fundraiser: Homecoming Open House

Sunday, November 12th, 2023, 2:00 – 4:00 pmRISSE, 715 Morris Street, AlbanyJoin RISSE as “we celebrate our newest neighbors and the newcomers who have made the Capital Region their home. The event will showcase performances and food from a variety of cultures from around the world.

“Learn more about RISSE, our partner agencies, and our collective work welcoming refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers to the Capital Region.”

Click Here to Register Now!

This event is free and open to the public. However, donations are appreciated and encouraged.

Lux Aeterna is a 1997 five-movement piece by Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) perform. As First Pres’ music director, Michael Lister, noted: “It is a sensitive and moving setting of the Requiem and other texts and will be a time for us as a community to remember and honor those of who we have lost from our community over the several past years.”

First Presbyterian Church is located at 362 State Street, Albany, at the corner of Willett Street, across from Washington Park.  There is parking on the street and in the park. The music will be in the sanctuary on Friday, November 3, at 6 p.m., while the art display in the adjacent room will start at 5:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. 


The Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library (FFAPL) look forward to seeing you on Saturday, October 21st, as we celebrate 100 years of the Albany Public Library!  The Centennial Celebration will be held at the newly-expanded Café Madison at 1108 Madison Ave. Albany, NY, from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. Cocktail attire is suggested. Tickets are available via the link above.

The evening will feature music, a silent auction, a mystery wine pull, stationed hors d’oeuvres, and an open bar. FFAPL has partnered with Harding Mazotti’s Rideshare Home Program to provide free rides home from the event! Scan a QR code at the event to get a free Uber voucher for pick up at Café Madison (Up to $200).

If you plan on driving to the event, street parking and nearby parking lots are available after-hours, including the Pine Hills Library.

If you are not able to attend the event but would like to support Albany Public Library, please check out the online auction showcasing unique products and experiences from local businesses.

The theater: Fly; Dear Evan Hansen; 10X10

three cities, three months

flyMy wife and I went to the Theater! recently, signs of normal-ish.

In February, we went to the new Capital Rep Theatre in Albany, just a few blocks from the previous venue. The production was called Fly. It was a story, written by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan, about four black men from different backgrounds trying to become Tuskegee Airmen, despite pushback from the system.

The Wikipedia page describes the potential pilots. ” Chet, from Harlem; W.W., from Chicago; Oscar, from Iowa; and J. Allen, originally from the West Indies—who represent the varied backgrounds of the men who went through Tuskegee’s training, not all graduating and not all surviving the war.” Three “other actors portray white men—instructors and pilots—who questioned the idea that black men could fly in America’s military.”

As the Cap Rep description noted, “You will see and hear the men’s inner conflicts and triumphs through ‘Tap Griot’… in a way that cannot be felt through words alone.” This device worked exceptionally well. Wikipedia: “A dancer who uses tap dance steps to set a mood that is ‘part sublimated anger, part empowerment.’ This character appears numerous times throughout the play, ‘commenting choreographically on events and emotions.'” This device worked quite well, and the dancer, Omar Edwards, was exceptional.

I don’t know where or when Fly will be produced again. The Albany run doesn’t even appear on the Wikipedia page.

Electric City

About three years ago, I bought season tickets for Proctors Theatre in Schenectady for the 2019-2020 season. When the calendar was postponed because of COVID, three of the shows remained. One, Summer, I saw in December. as I noted, the book was weak.

Com From Away, which I was supposed to see in September 2020, came to Schenectady in late January 2021, just as the Omicron variant was surging locally. My wife asked me NOT to go – she didn’t have a ticket – because she feared if I got COVID and gave it to her, she might spread it to her students.

I stayed home, but I’d be lying if I said wasn’t quite disappointed. The story of a Newfoundland town finding a way to take care of people whose planes were grounded after 9/11 was the show I most wanted to see. There is a production of it online on Apple TV, but of course, that’s not the same thing.

Tony winner

My wife and I DID see Dear Evan Hansen in March. I purchased the Broadway cast album a few years ago in anticipation of seeing the musical. And it’s odd that I feel the same about the music and script. Act 1 ends so joyously.

The story is that the title character failed to correct a false impression. He became popular online and in person, makes another family happy, and gets to date his crush. Of course, morally, the story can’t end there, but a very small piece of me wishes it could have. It reminded me a bit of Into The Woods, where the fairytales all end happily ever after. But then the story continues.

I liked the digital motif of the set design. The cast in this show, and also Summer, were excellent, as they almost always are. This show continues to tour into 2023, which you can check out here.

The Shire City

We also saw a production online. Actually, 10 Ten-Minute Plays by 10 Playwrights at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, which we ‘attended” for the second year in a row in April.
Stealing a Kiss By Laurie Allen – “Two elderly citizens meet at a bus stop where raindrops, turn to rain”…- sweet.
Love Me, Love My Work By Glenn Alterman. Misunderstanding about a new play.
Honestly By Steven Korbar. A young man and woman end their short romantic relationship and find they can speak to each other with complete honesty for the first time.” Oddly true.

Gown By Robert Weibezahl. A mother and daughter are shopping for the perfect wedding gown. My favorite; very touching.
An Awkward Conversation in the Shadow of Mount Moriah By John Bavoso. “Things are a little tense between Abraham and Isaac after the almost-sacrifice.” I found it quite funny.
Escape from Faux Pas By Cynthia Faith Arsenault. “Newcomers to a prestigious condo community find themselves in a precarious social situation, having inadvertently opened their neighbor’s Amazon delivery of…” Meh.

Liars Anonymous By Ellen Abrams. “Max and Charlotte clean up after a Liars Anonymous meeting and regale each other with creative renditions of their lives that sound suspiciously familiar.” Too much of a similar schtick.
Misfortune By Mark Harvey Levine. “A couple gets some disturbing news from a fortune cookie.” For what was essentially one joke, enjoyable enough.o
Climax By Chelsea Marcantel “For Sam and Teddy, the long-awaited kiss proves to be the easy part.” It rang very true.
The Voice of the People By Cary Pepper. “Who’ll be HomeHaven’s new mayor — the candidate with impeccable qualifications, or the one with no experience, no platform, and no agenda?” Too many caricatured citizens.

It’s a Wonderful Life RADIO THEATRE

A peculiar coincidence

X-CR IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE PRE-PUB 2019Capital Repertory Theatre in downtown Albany is presenting something called It’s a Wonderful Life: Live from WVL Radio Theatre from November 22 to December 22.

The description reads: “Meet George Bailey and all the residents of Bedford Falls as you’ve never seen—or heard— them before! Based on the classic Frank Capra film, this story comes to life as a live, 1940s radio broadcast. Five actors give voice to all the memorable Bedford Falls characters, accompanied by sound effects and music created live on stage.”

As part of my subscription to Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, I picked this show. But my wife wanted to go, and my daughter agreed to. We couldn’t get three seats together, so I sat with my daughter.

But the house was only half packed. On December 1, a winter storm was predicted. As we left church around 1 pm, there was a crew from The Weather Channel setting up at the entrance of Washington Park at State Street and Henry Johnson Boulevard. It seemed peculiar then since only a few flakes had fallen.

It was one of those peculiar coincidences. The premise of the play was that most of the cast of the radio theatre was snowed in while out of town. The sound effects guy decided that the show must go on, and recruited the station manager’s daughter, and two actors still in the area, to do all of the parts.

This included performing the commercials for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, Pepsodent toothpaste and Chiquita bananas. Not only do I remember the ads, but I also have the clips on a CD.

Have you seen the movie?

One’s enjoyment, I suppose, depended partly on one’s knowledge of the source material. My daughter has never seen the film about how Angel Second Class Clarence attempts to earn his wings. My wife, who turned me onto the movie, had some difficulty keeping track of all the minor characters the four actors played. It worked rather well for me.

incidentally, my wife sat next to the mother of the young woman who played the station manager’s daughter. The mom flew in from Seattle. She and my wife had a lovely chat about the life of a traveling performer.

Then we drove home, very slowly. State Street hill was mighty treacherous to climb. A car was spinning its wheels by the state Capitol at Hawk and Washington. It is possible that a couple red lights were, um, ignored.

Nippertown: “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live From the WVL Radio Theatre” Brings Christmas to Capital Repertory Theatre.

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